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Posts Tagged ‘Jacob’

Artifact Found in Time for Shavuot Proves Bethlehem Existed During First Temple

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Ir David Foundation announced that a clay seal was discovered bearing the name of the city of Bethlehem, evidence that the city existed during the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem.  The find fortuitously coincides with the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, during which time Jews from around the world focus on the story of the biblical figure Ruth, set in the city of Bethlehem.

The 1.5cm seal – called a bulla – was discovered during sifting of soil removed from the archeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the City of David, just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.  The sifting is underwritten by the Ir David Foundation, which treated The Jewish Press to a private tour.

The clay bulla was meant to seal a document or object, used as a way of showing that the private item had not been tampered with.

The new bulla bears the words:   בשבעת   Bishv’at    בת לים    Bat Lechem [למל[ך   [Lemel]ekh

Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said “it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (either Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem.”

“The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE,” Shukron said.  “The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat”.

According to Shukron, this is the first time the name Bethlehem has appeared in an inscription from the First Temple period, proving that Bethlehem was a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly in earlier periods.”

The first mention of Bethlehem in the Bible occurs in regard to the matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob, sister of Leah, and mother of Joseph, who died while giving birth to Benjamin “in Ephrat, which is Bethlehem, and was buried there (Genesis 35:19; 48:7).

In later generations, when the region was settled by the descendants of Jacob and Leah’s son Judah, a man named Boaz made Ruth, a Moabite convert and daughter-in-law of Naomi, his wife (Book of Ruth).  The couple’s great-grandson, David, became the most celebrated king in Jewish history, and made his capital in Jerusalem, on the site of the modern day “Ir David” – City of David.

Hugo Stiglitz VS the Canaanites

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

The first time I “read” the Torah, I actually listened to an audio recording of it on my iPod.  Much of it washed over me due to the arcane translation, and me not reading along, but one story stood out for me loud and clear.

It was the story of “The Rape of Dinah” (Genesis 34).  Here’s the short version: Dinah, daughter of the Patriarch Jacob, was raped by the son of a foreign king.  The son fell in love with his rape victim and wanted to marry her.  And so he asked for Dinah’s hand from her father Jacob.  Jacob’s sons – Simeon and Levi – concocted a ruse.  They said yes, you can take our sister Dinah – under one condition: all of the men in your city must get circumcised.  The king agreed, and all of his men were circumcised.  When they were all weakened with pain, Simeon and Levi came into their city, killed them all, and took Dinah back home.  The end.

Now, even though Simeon and Levi were following the principle to do whatever it takes to save innocent life (their sister Dinah), virtually all commentators – and even Jacob on his deathbed – condemned what Simeon and Levi did as wrong.

I see it differently.  In my mind, what Simeon and Levi did was great.  Totally badass.  Like…Hugo Stiglitz badass, from Inglourious Basterds.  I love this story, because it shows exactly how to deal with bad people.

For one thing, it worked.  It solved the problem.  If they had refused to give Dinah away to her rapist, the rapist would have taken her anyway, a fight would have ensued, and the King’s army would have likely killed all of Jacob’s family, thus wiping God’s chosen people from the Earth and from history.

If they gave Dinah away to her rapist, they would have lost their sister (a precious, innocent life) and they would have shown weakness to the bad people.  My considerable experience with bad people is: showing weakness to them never, ever works.  Not ever.  Never.  As evidenced by the entire arc of human, and Jewish, history.  Had they let Dinah’s rapist take her away, more rapists would have surely come for more of Jacob’s daughters, and it would have escalated from there – giving the Jews yet another group of tormenters to run from.

But that didn’t happen.  Because Simeon and Levi solved the problem.  They killed the bad people.  And, because they killed the bad people, the Israelites never again had to look over their shoulders in fear (of this particular band of tormenters).  Can you point to any other time in the Torah, or in Jewish history, when a threat to Jews and Judaism was solved?  Finished?  Ended for good?

Am I being too Stiglitz?

Golden Haggadah: A Unique Methodology

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Golden Haggadah: A Unique Methodology
The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination
By Marc Michael Epstein,Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2011

The Golden Haggadah was created in Catalonia, Spain sometime around 1320. So named because all the illustrations are placed against a patterned gold-leaf background, it is a ritual object of incredible luxury and expense. In light of Marc Michael Epstein’s analysis found in his recent book The Medieval Haggadah, this tiny masterpiece of Jewish art easily ranks among other towering works of complex narration including Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling in Rome.

The text of the Haggadah is prefaced by 8 pages of double-sided illuminations, each side containing 4 narrative scenes. Since the 56 illuminations frequently depict more than one aspect of a biblical narrative, the overall scope of the illuminations is vast. The first 27 scenes are from Genesis starting with Adam naming the animals, the next 26 portray the Exodus itself and the final 3 scenes depict medieval domestic Passover scenes.

Golden Haggadah, fol. 4v, (ca.1320-1330) illuminated manuscript, London, British Library. Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

Superficially, the selection of these particular biblical stories has no explicit relationship to the Haggadah text that follows, other than in the most general – the stories of Genesis lead up to the Exodus. Epstein therefore insists that more substantive significance will be revealed if we see the illuminations in the light of two medieval exegetical models. “The narrative sequence of the biblical text is expressed via the conventional progression of scenes, corresponding to pshat, contextual exegesis, in medieval biblical commentary. But the moral, theological, and political themes that were important to the authorship and that they wanted to stress are found in the chiasmic [diagonal across the page or pages] readings, corresponding to drash, homiletic exegesis.” What is especially fascinating is that Epstein is linking different sequences of seeing to specific conceptual exegetical models. To complicate matters, these links may be positive echoes or negative contrasts of meaning. This may very well be a totally unique procedure in the analysis of visual art.

Golden Haggadah, fol.5rv, (ca.1320-1330) illuminated manuscript, London, British Library. Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

Epstein organizes the 56 illuminations on three levels: first the group of 4 found on one page, secondly the group of 8 seen on two facing pages and finally patterns he discerns throughout all the illuminations. In what he identifies as the Bifolium 2 (two pages facing one another), the narrative literally proceeds from upper right to upper left, then back down to lower right and finally to lower left, exactly as Hebrew is read. The subjects chronologically unfold as: Destruction of Sodom, Akeida, Jacob Steals Esav’s Blessing, and Jacob’s Ladder. On the facing page we see Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Joseph’s Dream, Joseph Sent to his Brothers and Joseph Encounters the Angel in the same zigzag pattern.

Epstein immediately observes the connection between the diagonal of Jacob’s Ladder that continues up through the ruins of Sodom. This chiasmic (diagonal) link contrasts the destruction of the evil city of Sodom with the eventual construction of the holy city of Jerusalem at the site of Jacob’s ladder. In a divergent manner the Akeidah operates as a typology (ma’aseh avot siman l’banim – the events of forefathers foretell the events of later generations) to Jacob’s stolen blessing, each confirming the Divine choice of which son was to carry forward the history of the Jewish people. Suddenly a simple Biblical progression of Lot, Abraham, Isaac to Jacob develops into a nuanced complex commentary about retribution, holiness and inherited divine mission.

Further nuances emerge as Epstein observes that in this page delineating the early Israelite family tree, the right side of each image is dominated by “negative” figures. Lot hastens off with his daughters who will produce Amon and Moab; Ishmael, forefather of the Arab peoples, stands next to the donkey at the Akeida, Esav, forefather of Rome (i.e. Christianity) rushes in on the right and finally at Jacob’s Ladder we see on the right the angel of Esav preparing to attack the sleeping Jacob.

The repetitive flow of angels across the two facing pages yields more insights into the unfolding narrative. On the left-hand page Jacob Wrestling with the Angel is diagonally mirrored by the (non-textual) angel Gabriel guiding Joseph; compositionally 2 figures on the right are placed in contrast to a group of 6 figures on the left. This again echoes ma’aseh avot siman l’banim to show that just as Jacob encountered an angel at a crucial juncture, so too his son Joseph’s fateful encounter with his brothers was precipitated by the direction of an angel.

Pesach Video: Baking Passover Matzah in Israel’s Heartland

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Yishai Fleisher takes us to Beit El in Israel’s heartland, the location of Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) ladder, to bake matzot (unleavened bread) the old fashioned way by hand.  A crew of friends and neighbors carefully follow the detailed processes laid out in Jewish Law (Torah) for preparing and baking the matzah in less than 18 minutes total from start to finish.

Yori’s News Picks from All Over, Tue. 2/28/12

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

So, what have the children of Jacob and the people who hate them been up to over the past 24 hours? What can I say, it’s a violent planet. But even in a violent blue-green ball like ours, some stories still get our goat. Like this one:

YOU BULLY A JEWISH KID – YOU PAY. IT’S THE LAW

The NY Post reports on a $10.5 million federal suit that says staffers at Eagle Avenue Middle School in West Hempstead stood by as schoolmates abused Gedaliah Hoffman, calling him a “f–king Jew” for wearing a yarmulke.

Staffers caused “the bullying to become escalated by punishing only Gedaliah, although Gedaliah was the victim of the attacks,” says the lawsuit, filed last week by the boy and his mother, Lori Hoffman.

Oh, we want t see that one through. And give ‘em hell, Gedaliah Hoffman!

OK, we can’t do just nasty stuff, where’s the ray of hope thing? Well, there it is, in Borough Park!

LADIES TO THE RESCUE

Like this group of Brooklyn Jewish women who are starting their own ladies-only ambulance service.The NY Daily News reports that Borough Park lawyer Rachel Freier, 46, held the first recruitment drive Sunday for Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for “assisting women’ (but also a great pun on the Hebrew name for the ladies section in shul) — in her dining room. The News says Hatzolah leaders shot down Freier’s request last fall to let women into its 1,300 all-male corps, the city’s largest volunteer ambulance crew, which answers more than 50,000 calls a year.

Ezras Nashim member Hadassah Strauss, 26, retorts: “Women have been delivering babies for thousands of years.” Sharp lady. I strongly advise against getting into an argument with her…

WEEKDAY WARRIORS

And what religious Jewish person’s heart won’t be gladdened by this NY Times headline: In Texas, the Sabbath Trumps the Semifinals. Well, good for the Sabbath! And good for the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, which won its regional championship to advance to the boys basketball state semifinals last weekend in Dallas. But the team will not make the trip. Because the Beren Academy players observe the Sabbath and do not play from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays. Their semifinal game was scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday.

Hey, I say, wasn’t any super meikel rabbi out there to give the lads an opening? A halachic three-point throw? Nobody?

According to the Times, several of Beren Academy’s opponents this season agreed to change the time of their games to avoid conflicts with the Sabbath. See? All a Jew needs to make it in America is a few nice goyim…

ARE WE GETTING ALONG, OR WHAT?

Dozens of students gathered in the Hughes-Trigg commons to hear from religious leaders of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and balance and moderation was the main topic of the Islamic Awareness Week’s interfaith discussion panel Monday night – reports the Southern Methodist University Daily Campus.

So we scroll two-three paragraphs down and we get what we just knew had to be in there somewhere, the Jewish guy condemning intolerant Jews. Because, let’s face it. while hoards of Muslim tolerant folks have been storming the public squares of the Third World, with tolerant soldiers and police shooting tolerantly – and with moderation! – into the crowds, them extremists Jews really drowned out that peacefulness with their extremist going on living in their homes.

“Each religious leader discussed how the essential truths of their religions stress the importance of balance and moderation. However, they all spoke of extremists within their religions whose actions go against the core values of their faiths.”

Now, wait for it… wait for it… and – who’s the first panelist to take a crack at the condemn-thine-own-extremist challenge?

“Balance and moderation is a challenge,” Rabbi David Gruber said, describing extremist behavior he witnessed by some Jewish people in Israel.

First one, and ONLY one, folks. Honor murders, decapitations, mass killings, suicide bombing – not event a footnote. Horrible Israelis? Oh yeah, baby, we know all about them.

Even the Christian guy got away with it without mentioning firebombing abortion clinics and murdering abortion doctors, f’rinstance. So now we’re clear: The leasson from Islamic Interfaith Awareness Week at SMU is – we must do something about the Jews.

Good to know.

PRAYING IN BUDAPEST

And speaking of goyim, nice or otherwise, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reports that LDS Church has been added to Hungarian government’s recognition list, along with five Buddhist groups, Methodists, J Witnesses and two Islamic communities. Well, welcome to the club, guys, and remember: keep the weird stuff to a minimum…

 POLITICS REMAINS A CONTACT SPORT

This would have been funny enough for a dream scene from a Woody Allen movie (the earlier, funny ones): FOX40 News reports that Neo-Nazis and Occupy Groups clashed at Capitol Monday, man what a story. Except two officers were hurt in the clash, and made the story distinctly unfunny.

MK Hatovely Addresses Miami Beach Audience

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

MK Tzipi Hatovely addressed a Chabad “Lunch and Learn” event on December 14 in Miami Beach.

Hatovely, who sits on the Knesset’s Security and Defense Committee, referenced her recent trip to Belgium where she had attended a meeting of NATO members. “I couldn’t sleep from fear, realizing that Israel and the U.S. are the only countries in the world that recognize the existential threat of a nuclear Iran,” she said.

On the subject of right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, she declared, “We must make it abundantly clear to the world that Israel is ours because of the biblical mandate we received. Our land belongs to us because it was promised by G-d to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Carol Flato, Florida chairperson of Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI), sponsor of the event, introduced Hatovely and expressed thanks to the Israel Independence Fund for sponsoring Hatovely’s speaking tour of the U.S.

Taking questions from the audience, Hatovely addressed concerns over the continued incarceration of Jonathan Pollard and said she had attempted to visit Pollard at the federal prison in North Carolina but was denied visitation on the grounds he “cannot have visitors due to his poor health.”

Chanukah – Stepping Up To The Plate

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

As Jewish festivals go, Chanukah is one of our favorites – it is quite “user-friendly.” We get a rare green light to travel and cook with no restrictions. We can drive back and forth (no need for our hosts to find sleeping accommodations) and feast with family and friends as we gleefully celebrate the miracle of a rag-tag band of heroes beating the odds. We rejoice over the improbable reality that a few overcame the many; of a bit of burning oil lasting way beyond its “shelf-life.”

But there is another, timeless lesson ensconced in this Festival of Light that we should be aware of and internalize on a daily basis. It’s about seeing a need – and instead of waiting for someone more “qualified” or more experienced or more powerful or more “in the know” – we stand up, ignoring the deep pit of fear and doubt gnawing at our hearts; rolling up our sleeves, and “stepping up to the plate” (and I don’t mean the one containing the latkes).

The male members of the Maccabee family were kohanim, priests, spiritual leaders. They were not soldiers. The family’s patriarch, Matityahu could have easily rationalized that someone more trained in warfare and combat should take on the occupying Assyrian Greeks who had imposed their pagan culture onto the Jewish people and restricted their freedom of religion. Matityahu could have shrugged off the idea of physically engaging the enemy. Hey, not him, not his sons. The risks were too great, the challenge so formidable that it would be an exercise in futility. Why make what very likely would be a failed attempt to “fix what was broken,” to make the supreme sacrifice for nothing. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to a good outcome. All their blood, sweat and tears would be for naught – so why even bother?

But we all know that Matityahu, his sons and his not so merry band of men, forged ahead, despite the odds, despite their likely cluelessness of how to fight – and that made all the difference in the world. If not for this ordinary family’s willingness to take on an extraordinary challenge, Dovid would not exist, only Demetrius would.

I was reminded of the Maccabees and the message of Chanukah at a recent event celebrating 30 years of Aish Hatorah in Toronto. Four women, who I describe as female, 21st century Maccabees were the guests of honor – a fifth, was the guest speaker. Each had an incredible story of seeing a need, a tikun, and despite their very likely misgivings regarding the success of their endeavors, decided to swallow their doubts and “take the bull by the horns.”

Ellen Schwartz, a day school teacher, looked forward to the birth of her first child and envisioned re-discovering life and all its wonders anew through her baby’s eyes. But Jacob was born with Canavan’s, a rare, genetic neuro-degenerative disease. A gene found in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, if both parents are carriers, there is a one in four chance their child will have Canavan’s. Jacob is blind, cannot speak, eat or walk – and currently, there is no cure.

No one would have faulted Ellen and her husband Jeff from wallowing in self-pity and railing against the script the Heavenly Writer had written for them. However, instead of letting what seemed like a huge lemon “sour” their lives, Ellen and Jeff saw beyond their son’s severe disabilities and turned his life into a soul enriching lemonade. To that end, in 1998, Ellen co-founded Jacob’s Ladder, (the Canadian Foundation for Control of Neuro-degenerative Disease) an organization that raises awareness of, and funds research into finding cures for neur-odegenerative diseases. Now in its 10th year, Jacob’s Ladder has raised over $2 million.

Ellen also founded Project Give Back, a project in which children are encouraged to pick a charity or cause, research it, make contact, fundraise and share their knowledge with their class. In one instance related to Ellen, a student who spoke about his autistic sibling inspired a couple of classmates to reach out to an autistic neighbor whom they had previously ignored.

(L-R): Pamela Bielak, Rebecca Lambert, Nancy Weisbrod, Ellen Schwartz

Ellen has ensured that Jacob’s life would enhance others lives – that through her special child, people, especially children, would grow as human beings and learn invaluable life lessons of coping, of appreciating what they take for granted; and learning compassion and patience and acceptance of those different from them. Jacob himself is a symbol, like the legendary oil of Chanukah that was supposed to last one day, but burned for seven days longer, beyond physical expectations. Not expected to reach his forth birthday, Jacob was bar-mitzvahed last year.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/on-our-own/chanukah-stepping-up-to-the-plate/2011/12/22/

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